Insight

The Odd Couple: Rethinking HR & CEO Partnerships

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In today’s business world, human capital is critical to success. As The Bedford Consulting Group continues to collaborate with functional HR leaders and CEO’s, it is clear that the relationship between the two roles acts as a cornerstone for sustainable business results. In the world of executive search, we are often tasked with helping to find and pair these individuals together in order to create a winning formula.

When CEO’s value their talent and view their HR leaders as strong strategic partners, it creates a culture shift that is evident both internally and externally. In a world where Human Resource leaders may be misconceived to not possess analytical business minds and CEO’s can be accused of falling short in emotional intelligence, strong relationships and synergy between these roles can be based on forming a truly “Odd Couple”.

The concept of the “Odd Couple” and the needs of this distinctive relationship was born from conversations at The Bedford Consulting Group’s CEO and Human Capital Roundtable events. Attended by top leaders in Canadian business, these invitational events offer opportunities for CEO’s and HR leaders to gather with peers and share their experiences and wisdom. One of the most critical success factors identified by both groups in their separate meetings is their relationship with each other. In the second instalment of our Business Leadership in Action series, we learn more about the power of this coupling of opposites.

CEO’s often have solid relationships with many of their business’s divisional or operational leaders. The strong bond is born from the common focus on growth, profit, market share and other business measures. Their relationship with HR leaders is, in contrast, based less on commonality and more on dissonance and differing views. Paul Sparrow of Lancaster University was quoted in “The Economist Intelligence Unit’s CEO Perspectives” survey report saying the relationship between CEO’s and HR is critical because “CEO’s tend to be creative and full of ideas, but they sometimes need a reality check.”

The CEO’s attending Bedford’s Roundtable forums have shared key points for building the CEO/HR business partner relationship, the most recurrent of which include…

Make Talent First and Last

One of the concerns that keep CEO’s awake at night is talent. If it isn’t keeping them awake, it’s likely because they aren’t thinking enough about it. HR leaders need to realise that they organically improve their relationship with the CEO when they not only share the same concern, but also are zealously active in improving talent acquisition, development and retention strategies.

Say Something Others Are Not

CEO’s can have lonely jobs. They can often find themselves surrounded by people too intimidated to offer alternative points of view, even in the best interests of the organization. In addition to this, there can be the underlying impression that they cannot share their own crisis of confidence with subordinates easily. Because of this, CEO’s have a vital need for a partner who can tell the “Emperor” when they are “wearing no clothes”. The HR leader is the most effective person to be the relative safe point of discussion for the CEO.

Strive for Tangible, Measurable Results

Having as many meaningful KPI’s or measures of success as possible, the HR leader needs to approach accountability for results with the same fervour as a Sales Leader reviewing monthly sales. If the relationship with the CEO is too intangible, their work takes on the feeling of a psychologist appointment as opposed to a partnership for results that the CEO is measured upon.

The leaders of HR attending Bedford’s Roundtable forums have shared key points for building the relationship with their CEO’s, the most recurrent of which include…

Speak the Language of the Business

HR has unprecedented access to the business and should have, if approached deliberately, the broadest embrace of the language of the business inclusive of financial terms, as well as sales and technical product jargon. An HR leader seeking the most symbiotic CEO relationship needs to be multi-lingual and fluent in the language of the business and know truly, the profit drivers of the company.

Build Trust and Confidence

The relationship between an HR leader and a CEO requires confidence on the CEO’s part that their quasi-coaching relationship is hyper confidential and that the coach has in-tune, and refined perceptions for the nuances of leadership. HR leaders who have no new vision or interpretation of events will struggle to get airtime with the CEO.

The Economist’s survey went on to note that CEO’s see the HR relationship as one of closeness and trust above strategy and results. HR’s perceived excellence in emotional intelligence, perceptiveness and communications provides a CEO with informal executive coaching and usefulness that, while often perceived to be unrelated to corporate strategy is, in fact, critical to the company’s success.

In summary, learning from the CEO and HR Roundtables as it relates to the “Odd Couple” relationship is to embrace the differences and perceptions between the roles. Without the nurturing of the synergetic bond between these leaders, the organization will be severely impaired in its ability to compete in the ever-changing hyper-competitive business environment.


To be continued in Part III of Business Leadership in Action

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No Time for Heroes

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It’s a familiar narrative, the new CEO: bold, brave, and ready to carry the entire company on their shoulders. The question remains, is this truly the time for heroes?


In the eight years since 2008, The Bedford Consulting Group has hosted dozens of CEO and Human Capital Roundtable events attended by top leaders in Canada’s most resilient and successful businesses. While invitations to these events are limited, the knowledge gained from the gatherings is not. Over the years, these leaders have shared their experiences helping their organizations thrive in an uncertain present and create a more sustainable future. As such, we have identified a number of consistent success factors to win in today’s business environment. In the first of our series, we learn of the death of the hero (circa 2008).

CEOs and executive search leaders often agree; A-List candidates for senior leadership roles in the period before the 2008 financial crisis would rarely make the short-lists for current leadership searches without significant evolution away from one of their key traits of the past – being the hero.

Bedford Roundtable CEOs described how they (or their predecessors) were often promoted in this period based on old school autocratic behaviors that saw them ride in to single handedly save stagnant or struggling firms with “The Plan”. These popular hero CEOs were often effective but also created stiff, hierarchical structures that cannot prepare the firm or its young leaders for our current business climate. If being the stand alone hero is no longer ideal, what does an aspiring leader do differently? Top CEOs suggested three simple points on how to create sustainable change without enacting an idolized separation of the CEO from the company body.

1: Be Visible, Be Accessible

The hero CEO can often be placed on a pedestal that creates a sense of inaccessibility within an organization. Today’s winning CEO must instead be of the people, not separated by personage. The evolving leader can take a cue from Tangerine Bank CEO Peter Aceto, who has emphasized the vitality of CEO visibility and authenticity in all levels of a business. Aceto himself has been known to put in shifts in the company call centers in order to break down barriers and better understand the needs of the company and the potential for growth from the ground up. Tangerine and similar firms are setting themselves apart by developing this internal, external and online accessibility on an ongoing basis.

2: Recognize Talent No Matter What Package it Comes In

If we are to learn anything from the traditional hero’s narrative that can still be applied to fostering winning businesses, it is that great power does not always come from the places we tend to expect. Whether it is in the C-Suite, HR Leaders, or our workers in the field, today’s leaders must be compelled to act as mentors rather than as idols for new talent. In a 2013 report, the International Labour Organization indicates that we will see a significant shift by 2020 as Millennials step in to comprise half the workforce. Top leaders are already working to engage this population, recognizing their potential without falling into the myth that this incoming workforce is entering with an inherent sense of entitlement. In light of this incoming workforce evolution, CEOs such as David Labistour of MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-Op) continue to emphasize the crucial role of senior leaders in creating a workplace culture and strategy that will keep fresh talent engaged.

3: Promote Engagement and Accountability

We must recognize that there is no such thing as a perfect hero, CEO or otherwise. In order to create sustainable change in our businesses, we must be able to learn from our shortcomings and be willing to share that pragmatic experience. Labistour notes that, “leadership is about being human, and accountability” (Canadian Business, 2016). As such, our CEOs must be able to stand for what they believe in while humbling themselves to be accountable for their mistakes, treating shortcomings as an opportunity for collaborative learning and the development of a new vision for the future.

The real movers and shakers of today’s business environment can still learn from the heroic model, as among other traits they retain the tenacity and vision that came along with it. In the new business world, however, top leaders recognize that, much like the head is useless without the body, the individual is only as strong as their team. Heroes can no longer save the day alone.


To be continued in Part II of Business Leadership in Action

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Bedford’s 6th Annual Mining Industry Report of Board and Executive Compensation

Bedford has released its sixth (6th) annual study on compensation practices in the mining industry at the Executive and Board levels. This year’s study was expanded to cover 190 Canadian and international mining company, publicly listed on OSC and SEC. The Report includes junior and mid-tier firms as well as major international companies with global operations. Detailed analysis on renumeration of C-suite executives has been expanded as well as for Board Chair and Committee members. The Report also examined Board and Executive composition as well as providing analysis on such key initiatives as ‘gender diversity’ and ’say on pay’ practices of the companies studied.

Click here to access and download the full report.

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The Difference Between Executive Search and Contingent Recruiters

The Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants (AESC) has recently published a document outlining how Executive Search differs from Contingent Recruiters. Click here to read more.

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Bedford is proud to announce the official release of John Burdett’s new book – TEAM: Align, Build, Connect & Develop

“When everything else is stripped away, executive search is about partnering with clients to manage a significant business risk. So significant that there are times when the very future of the business rests on “getting it right.” Risk is about “fit.” Success, in turn, means having the tools and processes to surface and rigorously assess/measure: culture, performance, leadership and team fit.

TEAM is the second entry in John Burdett’s Talent Trilogy. To learn more about the book and Bedford’s innovative approach to Teams, click here.

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Bedford and CIM are proud to announce its 5th annual Young Mining Leaders Award

This is an award to recognize young mining professionals for their outstanding contribution to their organization and their industry. Click here for the nomination forms.

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Announcing the release of Bedford Resource’s 5th annual Mining Industry Report of Board and Executive Compensation

Included in the report are 200 mining companies, ranging from junior to mid-tier, and major public firms listed on the TSX and NYSE. The study collected data on over 1,000 mining industry Executives and nearly 1,400 Board Members. To download the complete report, click here.

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The Right Time To Challenge The Status Quo

Insights from Transearch on the importance of recognizing when its time to reconsider key business practices and strategies. Click here for the article.

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Social Media and Hyper Connectivity

Chris Swan, the Managing Partner of Transearch’s Mid-West Regional office, based in Chicago, discusses how our concept of “connection” has changed, and how it has expanded our sense of community. Click Here

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TIM HORTONS: THE STRATEGIC GROWTH OF AN ICONIC CANADIAN COMPANY

Senior Client Partner, Lisa Heidman and executives of the iconic Canadian brand discuss reinvention, growth strategy, and how to turn donuts into dollars.

To read the article and interview click here

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